My first show in London! I was a little misinformed the other night: Aunt Dan and Lemon was actually not in the West End, but at the Royal Court Theater near Kensington. The Royal Court is a national theater, meaning they are greatly subsidized by the government.
Firstly, I must talk about this theater venue. A rounded three-tiered house with leather seats seems to hover over the stage creating a polished, intimate environment. But most fascinating to me was the bar downstairs. This is exactly what the Geffen and Kirk Douglas in Los Angeles are trying to accomplish right now: a great pub-like environment where all types of people come to drink and eat and just hang out (all talking about theater) before and after the show, making theater more of an expected social activity here than going to dinner and a movie in California. (The photo above is from the downstairs bar.)
The play itself was incredibly interesting. Normally if I were to call something "interesting" it would be for lack of wanting to say something negative, but this show was truly intellectually intriguing. A sickly little woman who never leaves her house, Lemon, has never had much of a life, but spends her days reading literature about the Nazi extermination camps and recounting the stories that she heard as a girl from old family friend Aunt Dan. Lemon's thoughts and monologues are interspersed with scene's from Aunt Dan's life and the lives of her scandalous friends. Scenes play out about the politics of the Vietnam War, love affairs, and a call girl who is paid to kill a foreign man after sleeping with him.
What makes all of these seemingly unrelated stories so gut-wrenchingly intense is that at the end of the play, after we have witnessed her memory of Aunt Dan's death, Lemon calmly explains that it is ridiculous for people to think that the Nazis did anything out of the ordinary. All people, as she learned from Aunt Dan, are willing to do any manner of damage to other human beings in order to maintain or achieve the life that they want: Henry Kissinger is willing to bomb villages in Asia to protect the lifestyle of American democracy. A young girl is willing to sell her body and kill a stranger to get the money she needs. Society is built on the fact that for some people to be comfortable, many others must suffer.
This daunting thought coming from a tiny sick woman on stage is incredibly disturbing. It is not until you realize that she is completely devoid of any human compassion that you realize that human nature may not be as simple as she has bleakly laid out humanity to be.
Exiting the theater, I heard many discussions of people refusing the idea that humans are nothing but animals meant to kill, defending morality and compassion.